WiFi Sharing Etiquette and Modifying Firefox

Sunday, May 8, 2005

A friend is scraping by on his intern's salary and saves money by using the wireless connections his neighbors have left open. Is that legal?

Yes -- if the person running the WiFi access point decided to share it. But you can't assume that just because the access point is unlocked. Too much WiFi hardware still comes with software that leaves a network ajar and doesn't even ask the user if he or she wants to offer free access to strangers.

The right thing to do would be to offer to contribute toward the neighbor's Internet bill. That doesn't have to be half; if your friend is only using that access to check e-mail, he could offer to chip in $5 or $10 a month or buy the person dinner every now and then.

Keep in mind that some Internet providers forbid sharing an Internet connection in this manner, others have no clear policy and a few expressly permit it.

The Firefox Web browser includes shortcuts to several search engines that I don't use. How do I get rid of them?

While adding a new search engine to Firefox is intuitive enough (from the drop-down menu from the search bar at its top right corner, choose "Add Engines . . . "), removing them is not. Firefox's help file doesn't explain this, nor do any of the online tutorials linked to from the Firefox home page.

The procedure itself is a bit of a mess. In Windows, go to the Program Files folder, then open the Mozilla Firefox folder. In Mac OS X, go to the Applications folder, then hold down the Ctrl key as you click on Firefox's icon, select "Show package contents," and open the Contents, then MacOS folders.

On either computer, open the "searchplugins" folder and delete the paired files (one a data file ending in ".src," the other a ".gif," ".jpg" or ".png" image) named after an unwanted search engine. Restart Firefox, and they'll be gone.

--Rob Pegoraro

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071

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